Friday, January 11, 2019

Rome Journal: Fellini's Roma

The Ecclesiastical Fashion Show is one of the most iconic scenes of Fellini’s Roma (1972) and it was a highlight of the recent “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit at the Met. The scene epitomizes the themes of beauty and decadence that run throughout the film. Roma is a movie about the making of a movie and in the end Fellini portrays himself as a paparazzo failing in his attempt to get a few words out of Anna Magnani. He does succeed however in an earlier scene with Gore Vidal. Roma, like 81/2 (1963), is an autobiography, albeit even more freewheeling then the earlier effort, replete with the classic Fellini mists as the director tells the story of his coming to Rome as a young man and having his first experiences of art and sex--where he falls in love with a prostitute he meets in a brothel. However, the movie is also an excavation both of memory and, literally, Rome’s subway system. It’s an esthetic archeological dig, where layers are unearthed along with artifacts of both the recent and ancient past, the collective unconscious of a city as it reveals itself, almost psychoanalytically, in the imagination of the director. It is truly Frederico Fellini's Roma! At one point a character shouts “the air is destroying the frescoes” as a film crew follows workers unearthing history as they dig tunnels (a reference to the digging for line A of Rome's Metro which was frequently halted due to archeological discoveries). There are wonderful throwaways in the dialogue which exemplify Pax Romana to wit: “If you see people on their way to work, it ain’t Rome” and “No matter what you eat it turns to shit and what you eat tastes like shit.” Fellini has an associative sensibility that enables him to unfold his narrative in a dream-like manner. The style of the movie is a mixture of Proustian reflection (a gilded mirror appears more than once as an esthetic cipher) and surrealist juxtapositions. The shot of a group of hippies being violently disbursed by Carabinieri is followed by a boxing match. A momentous animal tusk is discovered underground following a scene of wartime turbulence. A vaudeville performance culminates with the audience running into a bomb shelter. And the finale, a kind of mock armageddon recalls Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953), as a motorcycle gang sweeps through the Campidoglio and the Arcacoeli Steps as they ride towards the Colosseum. 

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